Saturday 16 May 2015

Tintinnabuli - The Tallis Scholars in concert

The Tallis Scholars
Arvo Part, Thomas Tallis, Jean Mouton, John Sheppard, Gregorio Allegri; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; the Cadogan hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Music ancient and modern as the vocal ensemble revisits old friends and makes new ones

For their second concert at this season's Choral at Cadogan, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars returned to the Cadogan Hall on Thursday 14 May 2015, with a programme which mixed works from their latest disc Tintinnabuli featuring music by Arvo Part, with some old favourites. Tallis's Loquebantur variis linguis, Sancte deus and Miserere, Mouton's Nesciens mater, Sheppard's Libera nos, salva nos and Allegri's Miserere were performed alongside Part's The Woman with the Alabaster Box, Tribute to Caesar, Triodion and Which was the son of...

We started with Tallis's seven-part Pentecost motet Loquebantur variis linguis which seemed to delight in busy complexity echoing the speaking in tongues, with the ten singers creating a positively joyous complexity. John Tavener's Leroy Kyrie was relatively short but with Tavener's endless melisma, though for all the calm poise, there was plenty going on underneath. Jean Mouton's motet Nesciens mater had a different sort of calm to it, anchored by the slow moving bass part with glorious textures flowing over it.

Arvo Part's The Woman with the Albaster Box is a relatively early work, full of the Part hallmarks of intense calm and distinctive textures, but with rather thicker harmonies than we are sometimes used to. There was also a remarkable angularity to the melodies particularly for Jesus's words. The performance from Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars really brought out the austerity of the harmonies. They followed this with Part's Tribute to Caesar with its more familiar feel to the harmonies. The singers created a real intensity to the music as the story developed, though they did not always succeed in getting the words over. The piece, written for a larger choir, is a great challenge with just ten singers. It was superbly done, but you were aware of the technical challenge.

We returned to Tallis for his votive antiphon Sancte Deus. This has long weaving lines like the Tavener, but with Tallis paying far more attention to the words. The singers (with the basses taking a rest) creating a sense of calm with passion too. Finally in this half, John Sheppard's two Responds Libera nos, salva nos which may or may not be a single composition, they certainly respond to being performed together. This was a performance that was very much about the beauty of the texture, with the intertwining high voices over the slow chant in the bass.

After the interval we returned to old favourites, with Allegri's Miserere. With buildings and historic interiors there is a methodology which could be termed conservation as found, preserving without making any attempt to peel back the layers and create a full image of the past. This was Phillips attitude to Allegri's Miserere, a complex work which has changed over the years and which bears little resemblance to the piece actually written by Allegri. We heard the traditional version, complete with top C but in a performance which treated it with as much care and attention as the remainder of the works on the programme.

Tallis's short by glorious Miserere followed, a seven part work which is full of complex, multiple canons but as with much else Tallis, the singers made it all sound like a single effortless unfolding.

Arvo Part's Triodion was written for Lancing College and probably should be sung in a rather more resonant acoustic than the Cadogan Hall, but we had the benefit of really hearing the detail of the piece. It seemed rather less about texture than usual with this composer and more about text, concentrated and undemonstrative (though it wasn't all quiet!) All perfectly pitched and profoundly moving. Which was the son of... is an amazing setting of the genealogy of Christ, with a long repetitive text which Part seems to have entirely relished setting. In his notes for the Tallis Scholar's CD, Peter Phillips suggests that there may be an element of humour to the piece. Here it was full of intense repetitions, all concerned showed great control and pacing over the long time span,

This was a beautifully balanced programme, with the older works setting the more modern works off well though I have to confess that I could have well done without the Allegri, but understand why it might be included. From the odd hint in performance, I suspect that there might have been a small element of tour fatigue but these were minor wrinkles and only served to make the performance more human.

There was a gratifyingly packed audience, the audience's enthusiasm was rewarded with an encore. Having recently been in Mexico, the group sang a piece of Mexican polyphony, Padilla's Deus in Adjutorium. Elsewhere on this blog:

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